I only got to meet Harlan two or three times, and since it was in my position of VP for Los Angeles PEN it was somehow always antagonistic (by his selection, of course). He tried to shout me down when I was announcing something or other. I told him, Why don’t you stand up and defend yourself like the writer that you are instead of just interrupting obnoxiously. He jumped to his feet, stated his case, then sat down. And grinned. It gave me a good feeling.
I loved reading his words, but none more than what he sent me one day when I asked him what he did with “cranks & weirdos” he must deal with even more than I did as an editor. He sent me a mimeographed statement he sent to them, that went substantially like this:
SOME PRETERNATURALLY IMBECILIC ASSHOLE, USING YOUR NAME, SENT ME THE ENCLOSED PIECE OF SHIT USING THE UNITED STATES POSTAL SERVICE AND I AM RETURNING IT TO YOU HEREWITH IN THE KNOWLEDGE THAT YOU WILL NEED IT AS EVIDENCE WHEN YOU FILE A FEDERAL CASE AGAINST THE MORONIC FUCKER. GOOD LUCK WITH THAT!
Being a professor at the time, I didn’t have the balls to actually use it, but I never failed to think about it when I opened a crank missive. If only I could adopt it to email today!
R.I.P., Ellison. You rocked!
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